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The following article is reprinted with the kind permission of Robert Gray and Shelf Awareness.

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Friday | August 5, 2011 | Volume 2 | Issue 1525

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Booking Return Passage from OP to PFP

I often write about indie booksellers in this space; about men and women, young as well as not-so-young, who think the most important thing they could do with their professional lives is to own or work in a bookshop. That this is also perhaps the least practical option is precisely what makes the choice intriguing to me. There is a similar pattern of admirably illogical behavior in publishing. Niche indie presses are finding ways to fill the gaps created by an evolving (or, depending upon your current state of mind, devolving) book industry.

PFP LogoWhy would anyone start a small press? For Peter Sarno, founder of PFP Publishing, the answer came from a realization that many excellent books were disappearing into the out of print wilderness. As a literature instructor at UMASS, he regularly assigned Roland Merullo's Revere Beach Elegy: A Memoir of Home & Beyond, which had been recommended to him by author and publisher Askold Melnyczuk.

"The essays in that collection are powerful, and a few – especially 'What A Father Leaves' – move me to tears. This book resonated with students semester in and semester out. And, for some reason, it seemed to especially strike those who were first generation – no matter what their nationality; it’s a work that is able to communicate across generations reaching older and younger students alike.”

Revere Beach Elegy CoverLast fall, Sarno discovered the college bookstore could no longer order the book because it was OP. He contacted Merullo to inquire about the rights. "When they reverted back to him, I talked him into allowing me to issue a print version. During this process, he asked me about the possibility of an e-book version and I prepared Kindle, NookBook and iBook versions of Elegy,” Sarno said

PFP has now published new editions of three other Merullo novels and Melnyczuk's What Is Told, all of which were OP. Future plans call for the biblio-resurrection of Melnyczuk's Ambassador of the Dead as well as works by Elizabeth Searle and Craig Nova.

Melnyczuk observed that PFP's mission "of resurrecting out of print volumes as e-books, with an occasional print-on-demand run of – what to call them? p-books? – strikes me as the kind of innovative publishing move that stands a good chance of prospering inside the complex environment of the present moment. As a publisher, he is every writer's dream: engaged, meticulous, direct, responsible, and passionate about his work. Every step of the process of working with Peter has been a delight.  I wish the same good fortune on my fellow writers.”

A limited number of new titles is also planned. According to Sarno, "We'll have published at least two new books before the year is out. But for now, I'd have to say the focus will remain out of print books or those books that are still in print but do not have an electronic version available."

His vision of a publisher's mission is deeply rooted in his own reading life: "Starting with a novella I found in Stone Soup Books in Camden, Maine, I fell in love with the work of Andre Dubus, eventually getting my hands on all his stuff – fiction and nonfiction alike. And, I thought, why is it that I didn't know him, hadn't been introduced to his work before? So I assigned his books to my students, several of whom would end up choosing Dubus as the focus of their final projects. Later I found out via Ted Delaney's documentary The Times Were Never So Bad and other sources how David Godine was the first to take a chance on Dubus and how Andre remained loyal to him when the big houses came calling.

"It helped me to think of publishing in a different way – with a small 'p'. And, I thought of the achievements of Godine, Askold, Joe Torra, Bill Corbett and others, realizing the noble and important efforts publishers make – spreading the word, supporting the artists. If it weren't for Godine Publishing (and an independent bookstore in Maine), I wouldn't have 'discovered' Dubus. If it weren’t for Askold, I wouldn't have read Merullo."

 Melnyczuk reflected on what this new life for his novels means to him as a writer: "You send a book into the world like a parent packing a kid off to college, hoping you've taught it enough survival skills, nurtured its personality and strengths enough for it to cope with the exuberant indifference of a busy world. And so it goes off, sending you notices now and again – the dean's list here, a big F there. Eventually it just disappears inside the context of its own life and fate, while you tend to the needy new brood.

"But, I've discovered, if you're really lucky, and more importantly, if your book has the good karma to cross paths with a Peter Sarno, it might surprise in your weather-beaten days, and just when you're sure its long forgotten all you've done for it, when you have begun to doubt it ever existed as more than an image on Google, a number on Amazon, suddenly, there it is, dimensional and glossy in your hands. A reunion with the prodigal first book seems especially delicious and gratifying. And it wouldn't have, couldn't have happened without the intervention of a visionary like Sarno, who sees not simply the decline of one medium, but the collaborative rise of two."

(c) Robert Gray - 2011

Additional Information:

PFP Publishing helps established authors get their backlists and niche books into circulation via the AJAR Contemporaries, Fraser Press and PFP im-prints.  We look forward to publishing  new titles during the third quarter of 2011.  Our goal is to nurture aspiring and seasoned authors while fostering an atmosphere that engenders the creative process.

In addition to authoring numerous magazine articles, founder Peter Hallet Sarno is an editor who also teaches literature at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.


As a scriptwriter, producer and events coordinator, I have had the pleasure of working with Peter Sarno on many occasions, and can attest to his personal qualities and job related skills….No matter what the situation, Peter’s dependability and talent assure a smooth and professional outcome.…It is his talent for working with others that is probably his greatest interpersonal skill.  Artists find him particularly sympathetic and supportive, but his calm, thoughtful demeanor, his ability to take charge in a non-threatening manner, and his unflagging sense of humor are appreciated by everyone who comes in contact with him."--Beth Harrington  - award winning producer, director and writer

To Learn more about Beth Harrington, please click on the link below:

Beth Harrington Productions